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William Holman Hunt’s The Importunate Neighbour (1895)

It was Ole Kristian Hallesby (1879 – 1961), a Norwegian Lutheran pastor who spent two years in the Grini concentration camp, who asked the question, “Why do most of us fail so miserably in prayer?” Hallesby’s conclusion? “Prayer is difficult.” Would anyone disagree? Yet, why is that? The deed itself is not difficult. It is something introverts can do as well as extroverts. It doesn’t require any technology or equipment. There is no memorization necessary. One does not need to prepare anything. But most would agree prayer is difficult.

I would submit we make it more difficult than it should be. We often forget that God does not need us to pray. He does not pace the glassy sea before his throne, wringing his hands, asking himself why we aren’t talking to him. It isn’t because he doesn’t want to hear from us. It is because he is Trinity. The Godhead is self-satisfying, self-glorify, mutually indwelling, and in need of nothing. God is a perfect community. He could have been totally happy without ever getting to Genesis 1:1. God did not create out of need, but out of love, initiation, and invitation. When prayer becomes an obligation, often it is because we are not mindful this foundational truth.

Prayer is invitation into his community. Often our prayers become curved in on ourselves. Praying becomes focused on our sins and our needs. Not that personal sins and personal needs should not be expressed in prayer. We are told to cast all our cares upon him. But when those are the only, or the majority of the, things we are praying, it can become a cul-de-sac. Prayer is about bring us into God’s life and that life is founded upon community.

In Luke 11 the disciples approached Jesus for a prayer tutorial. He gives them a model prayer, which is embedded with the  community-words of our and us. Then Jesus tells a strange story of a pesky neighbor. Someone has dropped in unexpectedly, so a next door neighbor is called upon to cover the need. By the way, it’s the middle of the night. The strange part of the story is Jesus’ line “he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship” (Luke 11:8, NIV). There is grounds for saying no, because these neighbors are friends.

However, Jesus says the neighbor will get and provide as much as is needed. Why? Just because the guy is annoying? I don’t think so. And this is what I see as the number one way to change our praying. The neighbor wasn’t asking for a midnight snack for himself. His “shameless audacity” is on behalf of someone else. God loves the praying that is on behalf of someone else. That is very Trinity-like.

It is after this story of the pesky neighbor that Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (11:9). In the context of the story, it is apparent Jesus didn’t have in mind asking, seeking, and knocking for personal need, but on behalf of someone else. Then Jesus makes the application that any parent can understand. We want to give good gifts to our children. So, Jesus concludes, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (11:13) There is the point. God wants to give us himself. Prayer is meant to be the gateway to the community of the Godhead.

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